Public art offers an opportunity to share thought-provoking pieces of work with a community in its own spaces, outside of the walls of a museum or private home. South Africa embraces the public art movement, and its cities are increasingly adorned with artwork that reflects the unique culture, history, and experiences of everyday South Africans. From Cape Town to Johannesburg and dozens of places in between, here are some of the best public art pieces in South Africa.
Sources: Blog.SA-Venues.com, BrettMurray.co.za, ArtAtWork.co.za, AVA.co.za, SouthAfrica.net, MBDA.co.za, IBTimes.co.uk, Grandi.co.za
In Port Elizabeth, the Mandela Bay Development Agency’s Route 67 consists of 67 different pieces of public art works, built to symbolize Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of struggle for freedom in South Africa. Each piece was designed by a local artist from the Eastern Cape region and reflects the unique heritage and history of South Africa’s cities.
In the Newtown Cultural Precinct of Johannesburg, 560 statues of carved wooden heads are mounted in various places around the neighborhood, reflecting the diversity of the South African experience. Because Newtown has been home to thousands of migrants for more than a century, the sea of faces speaks to the area’s huge diversity.
ROA is a world renowned Belgian street artist known for his distinctive graffiti art of indigenous wildlife. He shot to acclaim in Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct for his massive depictions of six native African animals on the side of a central building. The giraffe, hippo, elephant, rhino, springbok, and sable antelope are stacked atop each another on a brick building in this up-and-coming area. ROA painted the mural for I Art Jo’burg — a community mural project — in 2012.
William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx are the masterminds behind “Firewalker,” an 11-meter-high steel sculpture near the Queen Elizabeth bridge in Johannesburg. Firewalker depicts a silhouette of a woman walking with a fire brazier atop her head, a common sight in the city. The sculpture is an impressive feat of engineering, having been erected from a smaller-scale model initially made of cardboard.
Clive Van Den Berg’s “Eland” in Braamfontein (Johannesburg) is an impressively gigantic sculpture of an eland in the midst of evergreen plants. Meant to inspire us to explore our relationship with the land and its resources, the eland is installed on a busy city corner that was once its natural habitat — but disappeared long ago.
Johann van der Schijff’s Arm Wrestle Podium (AWP) in Cape Town is both a functional and figurative piece of work. Presenting a communal platform where disputes can be settled, the AWP allows for a definite outcome to be determined in public. A set of rules is also attached to the podium, written in four languages – English, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and braille.
Also in Johannesburg’s Newtown Cultural Precinct, underneath the M1 highway, there’a an incredible open-air graffiti gallery filled with colorful and thoughtful works from a mix of established and up-and-coming artists. Tapz and Finn, two well-known graffiti artists, are known to contribute to the gallery on a frequent basis. They’ve helped turn the monochrome concrete surfaces into vibrant and stimulating works of public art.
Sponsored by Coca Cola for the 2010 World Cup, the sculpture is a giant pop-art man fabricated out of steel scaffolding and 4,000 crates. He resembles a giant Lego man set against the Cape Town skyline. You can’t actually see Cratefan Elliot anymore. He was taken down three years after his originally scheduled disassembly date.
Cape Town artist Brett Murray completed his “Citizen” piece in 2013, representing the power of the individual within the group. The piece embodies the South African spirit of ubuntu, depicting one body with many heads, and the national commitment to unity. “Citizen” is installed in the Auto and General Park in Johannesburg.
Usha Seejarim’s “Burning Truth” is a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s commitment to non-violent resistance, depicting a cast-iron pot with the inscription “peace” on it. Set over a bonfire, the pot commemorates the burning of Indian pass cards during Gandhi’s South African campaign for peace. South Africa’s pass laws were one of most most hated and divisive tools of apartheid. Black, Indian and colored South Africans were forced to carry pass cards as part of an internal passport system designed to segregate the population. Passes severely limited the movement of blacks and minorities, and burning them was a form of passive resistance.